An operational planning staff exercise (STAFFEX) was recently held as a part of Super Garuda Shield 2023 (SGS2023). The two-week U.S. Army Pacific Sponsored exercise focused on military planning in a combined joint environment at the operational level. The first three days of the STAFFEX were spent in a series of academic presentations from the Institute for Security Governance, Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), Australian Defence Force, United Kingdom Defence Force, and the Hawaii National Guard. Topics discussed during the academic portion of the exercise started with each partner presenting their capabilities, planning philosophy, and guiding principles then moved to discussions on joint operations, intelligence, strategy, and defense continuum. There were additional academic sessions centering on the Multi-National Military Decision Making Process (MDMP-M) and Multi-National Force Standard Operational Procedures (MNF-SOP).
“On the joint side of things, we have had a lot of reinforcement of similar doctrine, the similarities and differences that are mostly in naming conventions,” said Capt. Peter Foster United Kingdom Defence Forces. “A big learning point for me is how the U.S. and TNI forces work together and how defense engagement works. This is a brilliant environment for partners and allies to come together and build relationships.”
The academics concluded with exercise commanders Maj. Gen. Jered P. Helwig, Commanding General, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and ADM Edi, Commander Guspurla Koormada 2, Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) providing their “Commanders Guidance,” which addressed the exercise scenario along with goals and objectives. This guidance directed the formation of Combined Joint Task Force Super Garuda Shield (CJTF-SGS) for the exercise.
“We are here to build options, not actions, in the CJTF-SGS,” said Maj. Gen. Jered P. Helwig. “As we move forward into mission analysis and planning to inform our recommendations, it is important to process through the facts and assumptions we have in the scenario. The planning this team does in the next few days is essential.”
The task force of over 150 military personnel from four countries was composed of shops from C-1 (Personnel), C-2 (Intelligence), C-3 (Operations), C-4 (Logistics), C-6 (Cyber) and included a special staff of Gender Advisors provided by the Australian Defence Force. The operations (C-3) cell included planning teams for Air, Land, Sea, and Special Forces.
“The main difference between Operational Planning and Tactical Planning is scope,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Torres, Hawaii Army National Guard. “The level of detail and thought being put in by the planners at the operational level is ‘out of the weeds’ bridging the gap between a nation’s defined strategy and intent and the tactical units in theater actions.”
While the intent of the SGS2023 operational STAFFEX was to improve understanding of the Joint planning process, the relationships that are built while performing the joint staff functions is one of the key things that mark a successful STAFFEX.
“In any form of planning, understanding your partner’s perspective is critical,” said CMDR Andrew Clowes, Royal Australian Navy. “It is easy to have your own perspective but understanding your friends and partners point-of-view is important to a plan’s success. This exercise draws that out.”
This is the second year that the TNI and U.S. INDOPACOM have addressed the KOGABWILHAN concept in an operational level of planning. The KOGABWILHAN is analogous to the U.S. Department of Defense combatant commands. The exercise builds on the successes and lessons learned from previous years’ exercises Garuda Shield and GEMA BHAKTI, which has since evolved into what is now the second iteration of Super Garuda Shield.
“These exercises opened our minds to how other countries and organizations function,” said Col. Pam Ellison. Hawaii Army National Guard, Exercise Chief of Staff. “I have been to ten planning exercises, from GEMA BHAKTI to Garuda Shield, and now Super Garuda Shield and every time I go to an event, I learn from my counterpart. I learn things their military organization does that is different than ours, the differences in our cultures, and how we are different but similar. However, it is finding the opportunity to have the human-to-human contact that is amazing in these experiences.”
The exercise moved through the phases of mission analysis, course of action (COA) development, COA analysis and wargaming, COA comparison, and COA approval. Each phase finished with a brief by each section from C-1 to C-6 and the Special Staff. The briefs were presented by a TNI and an International Partner. The mission analysis and preparation is a full team engagement for each of the sections requiring attention to detail, creative thinking, and critical discipline.
“Even in the real world this is not a process that yields perfection so, do not obsess on perfection,” warned Mr. Kristian Smith, a member of the Institute for Security Governance. “As this is an exercise, I think it’s useful to think of this as a sandbox in which you have the freedom to fail in the name of learning. Practice. Fail. Recognize the origins of those failures and you will incrementally improve. That is what these two weeks are all about.”
The 20-plus Hawaii National Guard Soldiers and Airmen in the training audience provided subject matter expertise throughout the SGS2023 Operational STAFFEX as they have been executing planning exercise GEMA BHAKTI over the previous 10 years. Over those 10 years, the Guardsmen have exchanged extensive knowledge of military planning with the TNI, gained from years of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) efforts, at both the tactical and operational level of planning, through the State Partnership Program (SPP). Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements, thereby spanning military, governmental, economic, and social realms. The HING brings a broad spectrum of experience forged from the past few years and have built “J-Staffs” to respond to recent real-world domestic operations like volcanic eruptions, floods, COVID-19, and currently, the Lahaina Wildfire Response in Hawaii.